NCAA Tournament: Michigan vs. Louisville Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who:No. 4 Michigan (31-7, 12-6 B1G) vs. No. 1 Louisville (34-5, 14-4 Big East) UxH4KI9l8iS4ocSZqQnrBw112968[1]
Where: Georgia Dome (Atlanta, GA)
When: 9:21 p.m., Monday, April 8th, 2013
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM
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Michigan has seen its fair share of championship caliber coaches and elite defensive units during its run to the National Championship Game. John Beilein’s Wolverines have topped Shaka Smart, Bill Self, Billy Donovan ad Jim Boeheim in succession. They’ve managed to beat the 3rd, 5th and 6th best defenses in the country along with the defense that forces more turnovers than any other school in Division I. It’s only fitting that the Wolverines will see more of the same in Monday’s title game.

Louisville entered the tournament as the prohibitive favorite and has handled business with relative ease. The Cardinals have gotten this far without breaking much of a sweat after coasting by North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, Oregon and Duke before surviving a scare against Wichita State on Saturday evening. The Cardinals are No. 1 in the country by just about everyone keeping track: both polls, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Sagarin ratings, and most major power rankings.

Louisville-Michigan is a battle of the country’s best offense against the best defense. The Cardinals rank 1st in adjusted defensive efficiency, for the second consecutive year, at .82 points per possession. For Louisville, everything on the defensive end of the floor starts with the turnover. The Cardinals force more turnovers than any school other than VCU; Louisville opponents give the ball away on 27% of their trips down the floor. Once again that matchup is intriguing because after 38 games Michigan turns the ball over less often than every other Division I team.

The difference between Louisville and VCU is that the Cardinals have a more well rounded defense. Louisville opponents shoot just 43% on twos and 31% on threes. The notable weakness on the defensive side of the ball is on the glass, the Cardinals rebound just 67% of their opponents’ misses which ranks 242nd nationally.

The Cardinals have a reputation of being a great defense with a subpar offense but they rank fifth nationally in offensive efficiency. Despite that reputation, Louisville’s offense has arguably been better than its defense in the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals are scoring 1.20 points per possession in tournament games and allowing .92. For comparison, Michigan’s offense is manufacturing 1.13 points per trip and allowing .93. Both teams have advanced this far in the tournament because their so called weaker halves are producing at an opportune time.

Louisville’s offense is similar to Syracuse statistically in the sense that the Cardinals aren’t great at much other than offensive rebounding. Louisville rebounds 38% of its missed shots (17th nationally) and ranks somewhere between 50 and 100 in the other three factors. Louisville isn’t a great shooting team as its eFG% ranks 92nd nationally at 50.5%. The Cardinals shoot 32.9% from long distance (216th) and a more impressive 51% inside the arc.

Russ Smith NCAA Men Final Four Semifinals Sohy6wr0rJdx[1]

Russ Smith uses nearly 32% of Louisville’s offensive possessions, making him the highest usage player in a major conference. Smith’s shooting numbers aren’t spectacular, he shoots 47% on twos and 33% on threes, but he draws fouls as well as anyone in the country. Smith draws 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes (16th nationally) and attempts 50 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. The 6-foot, 165 pound guard doesn’t look like a prototypical slasher but his ability to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim is unparalleled.

Smith’s backcourt mate, Peyton Siva, is a great passer and average scorer. Siva’s half court scoring, .753 points per possession used, ranks in the 42nd percentile by Synergy Sports and his transition scoring, .978 points per possession used, ranks in the 39th percentile. Incorporate assists and the numbers skyrocket to 1.31 points per half court possession, 93rd percentile, and 1.60 points per transition possession, 90th percentile. The majority of Siva’s offense comes via the ball screen, where he uses 41% of his offensive possessions. Siva is best when he can hit the roll man, and Dieng is a great finisher when he gets the ball, but he struggles to score in ball screens. Michigan should go under screens and force Siva to beat that strategy by knocking down jump shots. Siva is a 30% three point shooter on the season and is just 1 of his last 17 from long range including an 0-for-5 performance on Saturday.

Louisville should be a difficult guard for Michigan at the four position. The Wolverines have struggled to defend the four position all season long, most recently against Syracuse’s CJ Fair. Louisville relies on a scrawny pair of 6-foot guards in the backcourt and a sky scraper in the middle, but also has a strong, physical option at the combo forward in 6-foot-6, 250 pound Chane Behanan. The Cardinals don’t post up often but Behanan is their most effective player on the low block and is likely to try and exploit that matchup against Glenn Robinson III.  Behanan is an aggressive offensive rebounder and gets to the line often but is just a 54% free throw shooter.

Wayne Blackshear adds more strength at the wing, measuring in at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. Blackshear starts at the three but  Luke Hancock actually plays more minutes. The majority of Blackshear’s offensive possessions are spot up from the wing and over half his attempts are from long range despite just a 32% three point percentage.

Luke Hancock went all Nik Stauskas on Saturday evening, scoring 20 points on 6-of-9 (3-5 3pt) shooting with a pair of assists.The 6-foot-6 guard attempts 70% of his shots from long range but looked surprisingly adept at slashing to the basket against Wichita State. His three point prowess should still be first on the scouting report, at 37% he’s the only Cardinal that shoots better than 33% from long range.

Gorgui Dieng is a 6-foot-11 shot blocking, stealing and rebounding machine. He’s a good finisher on cuts, rolls and offensive rebounds but he’s not a back to the basket player. On 61 post up opportunities this year, Dieng has managed .557 points per opportunities which ranks in the 14th percentile nationally. The key for McGary will be the avoid fouls – Dieng shoots 49 free throws per 100 attempts – and use his size to keep Dieng off of the offensive glass.

Montrezl Harrell backs up the four and Stephan Van Treese backs up the five while walk on guard Tim Henderson also played 10 minutes against Wichita State due to Kevin Ware’s injury and knocked down two critical threes.

Harrell is a shot blocker and offensive rebounder that can finish at the rim (58%). According to Synergy Sports, a whopping 75% of his used possessions come on cuts to the basket, put backs or transition opportunities and he’s scored just eight points on 20 post up opportunities this season.

Ken Pomeroy’s projections like Louisville by a final score of 71-66 in a 66 possession game. Pomeroy’s metrics give Michigan just a 32% chance at finishing the season with a win but that’s a far cry from their title chances three weeks ago, or last week against Kansas with four minutes to play. Michigan is at the finish line and its best 40 minute performance will bring home the program’s first national title since 1989.

  • Hops

    This feels like an overall better matchup than Syracuse to me. One key seems to be whether Hardaway, Jr. can stop Smith’s lightning-quick penetration on D, and whether his handle holds up to Smith’s ball pressure when M is on offense. Probably see lots of LaVert/Spike, if not.

    • Mark Worthley

      Watching Hardaway’s late and poor closeouts against Syracuse was painful.

  • Kevin in GR

    How big of a loss will Ware be in this game with the quick turnaround? He averaged about 16 minutes a game and was their leading 3pt shooter (percentage) during the season.

    • Northern Blue

      They lose a good athlete and shooter. Not the worst loss they could have sustained, but with the way they play, it certainly helps Michigan a little bit. Now those minutes have to be replaced by a walk on for ten minutes now.

    • It will take away some of their aggressiveness as they lack depth behind Siva and Smith who have been known to foul. If the game is called close they could be in serious trouble.

  • salama

    I expect Burke to play Russ Smith a lot and Siva to be guarded by one of Hardaway and Albrecht/Levert. Stauskas can mostly play Hancock/Blackshear/Henderson and stay on the court since those guys aren’t as difficult matchups physically for him as Triche was.

    Obviously GRIII will have Behanan/Harrell and Dieng and McGary will match up.

    The 5 is an okay matchup for us. Dieng is great, but McGary and Horford seem to have the athleticism and desire to compete with him. Morgan can come in and help get stops, too.

    I think we’re in a bit of trouble at the 4. Behanan is a rock with good feet, and could give the undersized GRIII the same kind of trouble Perry Ellis did for Kansas. Could see a bit of Morgan at the 4 if Behanan/Harrel are able to use their size and strength against GRIII in the halfcourt.

    The perimeter matchups seem okay on paper. Burke looked fantastic against MCW, but Smith is a very different matchup. It’s possible he’s too fast for Burke, but I think Burke will welcome the challenge of a physical and aggressive guy who is roughly his size.

    Siva is good on the P+R but I think Hardaway or Levert can use their length to disrupt him. I don’t know if Stauskas can stay with him, but he can guard their 3’s, who are basically shooters (although Hancock has a great pump fake to draw fouls). He might end up being guarded by Levert and/or Albrecht with one of Hardaway or Stauskas playing less minutes than expected.

    I think Ware is a loss for them on defense, for sure, since he is another quick, aggresive defender to throw at Burke or to pick up Hardaway or Stauskas so tightly that they don’t figure much into helping bring up the ball, but he’s very inefficient on offense and Henderson spaces the floor better, so what he costs them on D might be negated on O. If Smith or Siva get in foul trouble, though, which is certainly possible with Burke handling the ball for so much of the game and being the kind of star who gets respect from the officials, missing Ware could become a huge problem for them.

    Louisville has the pressure D, but Burke and Albrecht have been good against pressure and playing 4 guards and McGary means everyone on the team can pass and dribble. This isn’t VCU, where breaking the press means points, but if Michigan can take care of the ball, there’s a good chance the game will come down to which of Smith, Siva, Burke, TH.JR, Robinson and Stauskas get hot, and I like our depth there. Burke and Hardaway struggled against Syracuse, but they will have less length to deal with here and hopefully that means better shooting from outside.

    Louisville is the best team in college basketball, and Michigan has the most NBA talent. Should be a great game.

    • Hops

      Good point re Burke potentially guarding Smith rather than Siva. Think that would be the right move given Smith’s scoring ability. Doesn’t really necessarily solve the issue of Hardaway, Jr. keeping a quicker player out of the lane, though.

      • Azad

        Hardaway has the benefit of being able to sag way off Siva and forcing him to hit jump shots. If Siva has a flukey good shooting game we are in big trouble but I’ll take my chances on that one. Leaving Burke on Russ Smith for much of the game may really hurt Trey’s offense so I think we could see a good amount of Levert tonight.

        • mikey_mac

          I wouldn’t expect LeVert to be able to stay in front of Smith. I think that challenge will be up to Burke all night.

          • Azad

            Burke is going to have to rest at some point and I just do not see, especially with Russ Smith’s ability to draw fouls, Burke guarding him for 35 minutes plus. My guess would be LeVert would be the next best guy to attempt it from Michigan’s perspective, although I agree that I don’t think it’s a great matchup from a Michigan perspective.

          • mikey_mac

            Burke will play 38+ minutes tonight. I expect them all to be on Smith. Burke just isn’t one to foul much, even when he gets beat off the dribble. That said, if Smith is just lighting up Burke, I would agree that LeVert is the next best option.

        • Northern Blue

          I think anyway you slice it, Smith is too fast for anyone on this roster to guard. I think the toughest player for Burke to play I have ever seen was Lewis Jackson. Jackson last year would have his way with Burke, although Burke would do the same when he was on offence. I think Smith presents bascically the same amount of problems for this Michigan team with his speed. They will have to play defence as a team, and switch everything on the perimeter, and try to get Louisville taking contested perimeter shots, with the exception of Hancock who you can’t leave. Keep them out of transition, clog the lane, limit turnovers, and rebound on the defensive end.

  • Northern Blue

    GR3 has to stay out of foul trouble against Behanan, and whoever is guarding Smith has to as well. In a close game, I’d take my chances with Burke guarding Smith in the closing minutes. Do not let Albrecht guard him. Love Spike, but he doesn’t have the lateral quicks to keep up with Smith. Trey is going to have to be mentally tough, because he is gonna have to give us a 100 percent in every facet of this game. Also, we won’t be able to miss our freebies at the end of the game against this team, so if it comes down to that, lets hope these guys do a better job than they have in the past of knocking em down. I don’t think Mich will have a problem limiting their turnovers or defending.

  • mikey_mac

    I don’t think Pomeroy’s prediction accounts for Ware’s injury. Probably not a 5-pt swing, but it’s certainly closer than that.

    • I agree. When it happened, I thought that it would be the difference between winning it all and losing for Louisville.. Pitino has a real problem to address. He sat back in the first half against WS to protect his starting guards who can be foul prone (because he did not have Ware). Meanwhile, UM fouled out both Syracuse guards without Burke doing much penetration. Um was also able to handle what VCU threw at them which I am sure did not go unnoticed by Pitino.
      There is no question that they will come with everything they have at times but if he is smart, Pitino will be picking his spots.
      Michigan will win if they play their best defense and they make their foul shots particularly down the stretch (meaning Stauskas needs to be on the floor at crunch time).

    • maquih

      The much bigger question is how much does KenPom account for McGary’s emergence as a dominant rebounder?

      • mikey_mac

        This too. It’s like we traded for a game-changing big right before the tourney.

  • maquih

    Ks it possible to see Kenpom numbers for Michigan since the tournamemt began? Before the tournament, rebounding was our biggest weakness and now it’s a strength.

  • Jeff Braumberger